On June 3, 1965, NASA astronaut Edward Higgins White II (November 14, 1930 – January 27, 1967) made history and executed the United States’ first spacewalk during the Gemini 4 mission. The first US spacewalk lasted 23 minutes, beginning over the Pacific Ocean and ending over the Gulf of Mexico.

White later said the spacewalk was the most comfortable part of the mission and said the order to end it was the “saddest moment” of his life.

Today’s (June 3) story of what happened this day in Science, Technology, Astronomy, and Space Exploration history.

First US Spacewalk: Ed White
The first photograph of the EVA as Ed White backs away from the Gemini spacecraft over the Pacific Ocean northeast of Hawaii. Image: NASA.gov

The extra-vehicular activity (EVA) started at 19:45 UT (3:45 p.m. EDT) on the third orbit when White opened his hatch and used the hand-held maneuvering oxygen-jet gun to push himself out of the capsule. White was attached to the capsule by a 25-foot (8-meter) umbilical cord (tether).

The EVA started over the Pacific Ocean near Hawaii and lasted 23 minutes, ending over the Gulf of Mexico. Initially, White propelled himself to the end of the 8-meter tether and back to the spacecraft three times using the hand-held gun. After the first three minutes the fuel ran out and White maneuvered by twisting his body and pulling on the tether.

The photographs of White’s spacewalk were taken by Gemini 4 Commander James McDivitt  (born June 10, 1929), still inside the spacecraft.

The First US Spacewalk (Ed White)
A spectacular photo of the first US spacewalk. Image: NASA Astronauts on Twitter

Ed White

Edward Higgins White II (November 14, 1930 – January 27, 1967), (Lt Col, USAF), was an American aeronautical engineer, U.S. Air Force officer, test pilot, and NASA astronaut. White died along with astronauts Virgil “Gus” Grissom and Roger B. Chaffee during prelaunch testing for the first crewed Apollo mission at Cape Canaveral when a flash fire swept through the Apollo 1 command module during a launch rehearsal test.

The three men inside perished despite the best efforts of the ground crew. It would take more than 18 months, and extensive redesigns, before NASA sent more humans into space. The Apollo program changed forever after the incident. The improvements in astronaut safety allowed the agency to complete the rest of the program with no further fatalities. The agency also met United States president John F. Kennedy’s goal of landing a human on the moon in 1969, during Apollo 11.

White was awarded the NASA Distinguished Service Medal for his flight in Gemini 4 and then awarded the Congressional Space Medal of Honor posthumously.

Apollo 1 Astronauts
Apollo 1 Astronauts (left to right) Gus Grissom, Ed White, and Roger Chaffee, pose in front of Launch Complex 34 which is housing their Saturn 1 launch vehicle. The astronauts died ten days later in a fire on the launchpad. Image: Wikipedia

Gemini 4

Gemini 4 (officially Gemini IV) was the second crewed space flight in NASA’s Project Gemini, occurring in June 1965. It was the 10th crewed American spaceflight, including two X-15 flights at altitudes exceeding 100 kilometers (54 nautical miles). Astronauts James McDivitt and Ed White circled the Earth 66 times in four days, making it the first US flight to approach the five-day flight of the Soviet Vostok 5.

The highlight of the mission was the first spacewalk by an American, as we see above. Both of these accomplishments helped the United States overcome the Soviet Union’s early lead in the Space Race, the 20th-century competition between two Cold War rivals, the Soviet Union (USSR) and the United States (US), for dominance in spaceflight capability.

The flight also included the first attempt to make a space rendezvous as McDivitt attempted to maneuver his craft close to the Titan II upper stage which launched it into orbit, but this was not successful.

The First US Spacewalk (Ed White)
The first US spacewalk was executed by Ed White on June 3, 1965, during the Gemini 4 mission. Image: NASA Astronauts on Twitter.


M. Özgür Nevres
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